Introducing Wayfinders Collective

Introducing Wayfinders Collective

I have always been a believer in putting out into the Universe the energy, ideas and intentions that I have for myself. After all, if you don’t lead with what you want, how will the Universe ever know what to send your way? 

As I’ve been finding my way through a recent career transition moment, I’ve noticed that others are also finding themselves in moments of change, of questioning: Where am I heading? What is my North Star? Is there even just one ‘right’ North Star for me, or perhaps am I in search of a constellation of stars, or a different galaxy altogether?

Then, one night as I sat eyes closed on a red-eye flight – literally on a journey across time and space – the Universe popped into my head with a message:

I am a Wayfinder.

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First Day / Last Day

Yesterday marked my last day as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow

When I joined the PIF program in September 2014, I didn’t do it out of a love for my country. Sure, the public service element was meaningful to me from the start, but I never would have used the word ‘patriotism’ to describe my reasons for joining. My reasons were more personal, perhaps more selfish – career growth, new opportunities for my family, that sort of thing.

As soon as I got started, it was clear I was in a fight to swim upstream. It turns out that getting stuff done in government can be even tougher than it looks from the outside, especially on a short timeline. The reality is that there have been many moments over the last two years where I have raised my hands in frustration and wished I could quit. 

Yet, as I wind down my stint as a Fellow, I can’t help but feel immense pride at having witnessed and perhaps even played a part (albeit a very, very tiny one) in the impact and legacy of the Obama Administration. It may just be coincidence that I am concluding my federal service as our next election is picking up speed, but watching the battle taking place – for our new leader and for the future of this country – I now understand what’s truly at stake, as well as what’s truly possible when people come together in service of mission that’s bigger than themselves.

Over the last 23 months, it has been a personal honor and privilege to serve my country in the way I know how, to do my part to make our government more efficient, effective and ultimately more successful in meeting the needs of the public. It’s been an experience full of big lessons and small victories, and I am so grateful for all of it. Thank you to all of my friends and colleagues at the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program, the White House, and across the government for inviting me in with open arms and supporting me over the last two years. 

While it’s bittersweet to close this chapter, I’m moving on with an expanded understanding of my own identity and purpose as an American citizen and patriot. I didn’t start out on this course because of my love for our country, but I am certainly leaving with it. 

Toddler Parenting: The Ultimate Crash Course in Being Effective at Work

 Me and my little 'extreme user'

Me and my little 'extreme user'

Demanding. Frustrated. Stubborn. Selfish. Emotional. Impatient.

If you’ve ever had a tough boss or a tough client, you’ve probably privately used some of these words to describe him or her. 

Yet, if you’re a parent, you know that these adjectives can also easily be applied to another tough crowd: our children.

As my son makes the transition from infant to toddler to preschooler, I’ve been reflecting on how parenting has changed me as a person and as a professional. My theory? Parenting is by far the best crash course – the best on-the-job training you could hope for, really – for improving your effectiveness and success at work. Here are my top three parenting lessons that also help me at work:

Communication and Empathy are #1

The craziest thing about little kids, even ones who are too young to talk, is that they are constantly communicating with you and you are constantly communicating with them. Whether it’s through your words, your body language, your eyes, even your energy – our children soak up all of these cues even when we don’t realize it.

Parenting requires you to be constantly vigilant about what you are communicating and how you are communicating it. Every signal sends a message. For instance, using words to describe our planned activities for the day helps my son create a mental script that he can follow and find comfort in as we move throughout the day. Similarly, If I’m nervous about my son’s doctors appointment, even if I don’t communicate that message verbally, my body language might tell my son that we’re about to enter a situation that makes me anxious, which in turn creates anxiety for him.

In crisis moments, communication – and especially communicating empathy – becomes especially important. One of my favorite parenting books, Love and Logic, outlines a step-by-step process for how to tame a toddler meltdown. The first step is called “locking in the empathy”. Simply put, this means getting down on on your child’s level, making eye contact with them, and starting first by expressing your understanding for their feelings and emotions. By showing your child that you are focusing on him and his experience of the situation, you’re much more likely to make progress trying to calm him down and move on to the next thing.

As professionals, this emphasis on communication and empathy is equally important. Whether it’s making a recommendation for a new strategy, having a tough conversation, or simply nurturing a professional relationship, being mindful about how and what we communicate is vital both for our clients and for our colleagues. How often and how well do you communicate the planned activities for any given client project, or lock in the empathy with a tough colleague who’s not making things easy for you?

Life is about Choices

This is perhaps my favorite toddler trick and it’s all about control – or at least the perception of control. Being a toddler is tough for a lot of reasons, but a big one is that you’re self-aware enough to want to have free choice and independence, but at the end of the day you’re still two years-old, which means you get to do practically nothing on your own (at least, this is what I think being a toddler is all about). When a toddler confronts this inner conflict head on, it’s like instant internal combustion. So, to help ease this disconnect, you offer choices. 

Love and Logic talks about offering choices that are first, equally acceptable to you and second, don’t knowingly cause any harm to anyone. To demonstrate this, imagine a scenario in which you struggle every night to get your child to eat vegetables at dinner (in my experience, this is a very likely scenario). You don’t care what vegetables your child eats, but what you do care about is that he has something green on his plate. Instead of asking him, ‘would you like vegetables or a cookie at dinner,’ you ask him, ‘would you like broccoli or green beans with your dinner?’ All of a sudden, the conversation has shifted to one about choices, and usually this is enough. Your toddler feels in control of the situation, and your end goal of getting something green on the dinner plate is accomplished (although whether he eats it is another story). 

Since learning about the mind-blowingly effective world of toddler choices, I’ve started playing around with choices at work too. It’s been especially helpful with colleagues when I need to engage them in a conversation about pivoting or redirecting our work to focus on something unexpected. With a little bit of pre-planning before the conversation, I can pick a couple of choices – either of which will work for me – and then present them to the group for discussion. By selecting a few options that I’m ok with and then letting go of the final decision, I’m able to steer the group in a direction that I feel good about, while still including others in the process and giving them ownership of the final decision. 

Staying Present and Mindful

By far one of the toughest things about parenting is that our children make it tough to multi-task. Those pesky kids with their needs and wants! 

In truth, while we all love to check email while watching TV or doing any number of things at the same time, being a parent forces you to put down your devices, your to-do list, and pretty much everything else and focus completely on your child. Parenting is, in fact, the best form of mindfulness training you can find. Some of my happiest, most fulfilling, and most memorable moments with my son are the ones when I am able to drop completely into parent mode: sitting on the floor building a train set, listening to my son describe his day at school, getting lost in the plot of a playful library book. I may never finish cleaning the house or doing laundry, but I’ll also never regret the moments when I stopped worrying about chores and errands and instead spent my time being completely present with my son. 

Being present at work often feels in direct conflict with what I’m supposed to be doing at work, which is being productive. How can I let go of my to-do list and be present at the office when my inbox is overcrowded and my calendar is filled with meetings? My approach to this is to find moments of being mindful in the midst of the day’s chaos. This could look like any number of things, but right now for me it looks like closing my laptop when I’m in a meeting so I can focus on the conversation. It looks like asking how my teammate’s holiday was, and then genuinely listening to the answer. It looks like enjoying the progress my client makes in a workshop, without worrying about the work that inevitably comes next. 

At IDEO, I learned about the value of looking to extreme users, or edge cases, for insights into how to design solutions or services that work for everyone. Three years into my parenting journey, I can safely say that toddlers are most certainly extreme users! 

How has being a parent changed your approach at work? I’m curious to hear what you think.

An Evolving Definition of Community

Who knew 'Presidential' was a flavor of cupcake?

When I was in business school, I defined community as a collection of people – consumers especially – who were uniting around causes and missions that they cared about and using their purchasing power and their voices (especially on social media) to effect change in the world. Once I joined IDEO, I began to round out this working definition of community to include location – that is, whether the community exists online or offline – and how that location influences the type of work people can accomplish together.
Over the last 3.5 years with OpenIDEO, my passion for community – and particularly unlocking new ways of supporting communities to collaborate, innovate and see positive change where they live – has deepened and taken on new dimensions that I couldn’t have expected. And I’m very proud to say that my next step – as a Presidential Innovation Fellow in Washington, DC – is helping me continue to round out my understanding of community on a scale that I could have never imagined (Read more about the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and the incredibly talented folks who’ve joined this year’s class).
For my first project, I’ve been paired with an innovative team of strategists and doers at the National Archives and Records Administration. I, along with another PIF, are charged with exploring how crowdsourcing and online community engagement can help NARA accelerate its efforts to expand public, online access to our Nation’s most valuable historical records. It’s no small task when you consider NARA has over 12 billion pages of paper records within its holdings! Yet I’m confident that crowdsourcing, if applied in smart and intentional ways, can quickly and effectively scale this effort.

When I started The Changebase, way back as an MBA student in 2009, I had a hunch that the idea of community – a collection of people united by common experiences, shared values or like-minded goals – would play a large part in my professional career, but I couldn’t have anticipated exactly how.

In business school I defined community as a collection of people – consumers especially – who were uniting around causes and missions that they cared about and then using their purchasing power and their voices to effect change in the world. Once I joined IDEO, I began to round out this working definition of community to include location – that is, whether the community exists online or offline – and how that location influences the type of work people can accomplish together.

Over the last 3.5 years with OpenIDEO, my passion for community – and particularly unlocking new ways of supporting communities to collaborate, innovate and see positive change where they live – has deepened and taken on new dimensions that I couldn’t have expected. And I’m very proud to say that my next step – as a Presidential Innovation Fellow in Washington, DC – is helping me continue to round out my understanding of community on a scale and through a lens that I could have never anticipated (Read more about the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program and the incredibly talented folks I'm lucky to partner with in this year’s class).

For my first project, I’ve been paired with an innovative team of strategists and doers at the National Archives and Records Administration. I, along with another PIF, am charged with exploring how crowdsourcing and online community engagement can help NARA accelerate its efforts to expand public, online access to our nation’s most valuable historical records. It’s no small task when you consider NARA has over 12 billion pages of paper records within its holdings! Yet I’m confident that crowdsourcing, if applied in smart and intentional ways, can quickly and effectively scale this effort.

What will be the tangible outcomes of my time as a Presidential Innovation Fellow? Thankfully I'm only two months into the program, so I don't need to know that answer just yet. But I do know that over the next year I'm looking forward to further evolving my definition of community, this time on a national scale. How might we design citizen services that meet the needs of a community as diverse and complex as the American people? Wish me luck!

Turning Ideas into Impact

I recently came across this great TED talk by Steven Johnson, a technology, science and innovation author who focuses on the question of where good ideas come from. Steven Johnson on TED

Over the course of 20 minutes, Johnson discusses open innovation as a vehicle for identifying, nurturing and developing great ideas. Innovation doesn’t happen in a bubble, nor in a flash – instead the best ideas are those that have come from connected individuals who make use of “liquid networks.”  “Chance,” he says, “favors the connected mind.”

This topic has been very top-of-mind for me lately, as I dive into the world of open innovation and online collaboration over at OpenIDEO.

As you’ve heard me talk before, OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform where people from all walks of life come together to collaboratively tackle some of our world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges. From improving maternal health using mobile technology to increasing access to sanitation solutions in low-income communities, OpenIDEATORS (as our global community of 17,000+ calls itself) have generated thousands of ideas to improve our world.

It turns out that August marks OpenIDEO’s first anniversary, and while we’re taking a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come, we’re also eagerly looking forward toward what we hope to accomplish in the year ahead.

In some ways you could argue that Steven Johnson’s talk about the genesis of great ideas represents the story of OpenIDEO during Year 1. Through our platform we’ve provided an opportunity for people to connect and for ideas to be shared and built upon. In Year 2, however, we’re hoping to go beyond just being a community of thinkers, and instead figure out ways to become a community of doers.

One common critique of open innovation platforms like OpenIDEO is that impact is slow and difficult to achieve, and it’s something we’ve definitely witnessed over the course of the last 10 challenges we’ve run. The sponsors we work with make a commitment to realizing ideas from each challenge, but achieving and documenting implementation and impact can be slow going due to a number of constraints on resources, time, partnerships and more. Given this, one of our goals for Year 2 is to focus on the kind of impact that isn't always slow; that is, impact via individuals like you and me.

Take our Bone Marrow Donation Challenge, for instance. Ideally, impact in this challenge means actual lives saved through increased bone marrow donation. While this would certainly be an incredible example of impact, it's going to a long time before OpenIDEO and our sponsor have helped connect a bone marrow donor with a cancer patient in need of a transplant. In the meantime, then, we also want to recognize that there are alternative impacts we can strive for in the short term – swabbing a cheek and registering to donate, raising awareness among friends and family, even hosting a bone marrow registration drive, to name a few. The point is: there are many ways to contribute to achieving impact, and many ways to become a doer.

To gear up for a year focused on increasing our impact, OpenIDEO has just launched a new challenge that asks the question: How might we increase social impact with OpenIDEO over the next year?

ImpactChallengeHeror

It’s a question that’s relevant not just for the OpenIDEO community but for the social innovation sector as a whole. What does impact mean on a local and global scale? How can we catalyze people from all over the world to recognize and act on moments of impact? And how might we empower people to open themselves up to the possibility that they can become agents of change? We’re hoping to tackle these questions in this challenge, and I’d love it if you joined the conversation.

Here’s to the start of a brand new year – one filled with new ideas and new impact.